Guidance has been released advising frontline professionals on how to recognise signs that a child may be suffering, or likely to suffer, significant harm from abuse linked to a belief in witchcraft and spirit possession.
A training film commissioned by the Metropolitan Police’s Project Violet team, which works to address ritual child abuse, has been launched to help train all professionals who work with and safeguard children.
The numbers of allegations of abuse linked to a belief in witchcraft and spirit possession have been rising steadily, with the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) receiving 27 allegations this year compared to just nine in 2011.
Examples of referrals investigated by the police included a child being forced to drink unknown substances to rid them of evil spirits, a pastor swinging a child around and banging their head to drive out the devil and parents removing children from school and taking them out of the country to attend an exorcism ceremony.
Speaking ahead of the multi-agency event in London, Terry Sharpe, from the Met’s sexual offences, exploitation and child abuse command, gave details about the abuse frontline workers were dealing with: “Families or carers genuinely believe that the victim has been completely taken over by the devil or an evil spirit, which is often supported by someone who within the community has portrayed themselves as an authority on faith and belief.”
He added: “Regardless of the beliefs of the abusers, child abuse is child abuse. Our role is to safeguard children, not challenge beliefs…This is a hidden crime and we can only prevent it by working in partnership with the community.”
The MPS and CCPAS (the Churches’ Child Protection Advisory Service), who co-hosted the event in London on Wednesday, gave some guidance on what professionals working with children at risk should look out for. They said that children display behaviour consistent with distress, adding that they may appear isolated, quiet, withdrawn and sad.
Common risk factors that put a victim in harm’s way include family difficulties being rationalised by the belief they are cursed and the victim has become possessed by evil spirits
They added that there is no definitive list of religions which practice witchcraft and it is not confined to particular countries, cultures, religions or communities.
Mor Dioum, director at the Victoria Climbie Foundation, urged professionals to “adopt a more holistic approach with children, young people and families when dealing with abuse that does not fit the norm”.
CCPAS told Community Care that they propose to pass the training DVD to Local Safeguarding Children Boards (LSCBs) so they may make it available to social workers and other front line staff.